Me, stammering: Wait, wahhht? Huh? Mama, what are you talking about?
Grandma: It was during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Your grandpa was in the army, and at the time, I had to go into hiding.
Me, dumbfounded: But you were pregnant!! That must have been so difficult! How did you survive?
Grandma: It was the will of God. What can you do?
Me, upset and frustrated: But you were only a teenager!
Grandma: That was how it was.
Me, utterly flabbergasted: But weren't you...terrified? This was your first time giving birth!
Grandma: God was with me.
Dionisia Velena (1927-2017), my grandmother, was truly a living saint among us. She and many other girls in the Philippines chose to marry their spouses at a young age to avoid getting raped and abducted by the Japanese military. Their education was halted, and during WWII, their lives were tenuous. Although the story itself is incredible, it was my grandmother's responses to these tumultuous events that filled me with awe the most.
If there was a stenographer writing down every conversation I had with my grandmother, I'm sure the phrases "It was the will of God. What can you do?", "God was with me" , "It is up to Him", "It is a blessing from God" and "Let's pray the rosary" would flood each page. God was the center, main actor, best friend, and THE love of her life. Many would talk about her beautiful marriage with my grandfather, but in actuality, the Greatest love of her life was none other than Love Himself, God.
Every time I hear or read Matthew 18:3-4, I think of my grandma. When Jesus is asked about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven by one of His disciples, He calls a child over and says, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Dionisia Velena trusted in God like a child trusts in his/her parents. Even when the blessings weren't apparent and she was literally fighting for her life, she was certain that God had a plan and confident that it was good. Her openness to God's will and joyful acceptance of all the trials that came her way defined her character and more significantly, her life.
She knew that every thing and every person in her life was a gift from God- her clothes, water, food, home, husband, children, grandchildren, bed, health, education, and others. Four days before her death, unbeknownst to either her or me, I asked her how she was doing. She smiled, eyes twinkling, and said, "Oh you know, same as always. Everything hurts. Let's pray the rosary." You wouldn't know she was in pain unless you asked her, and even then, her joy radiated so much so that it was easy to forget that she was suffering.
She prioritized people and not things. My grandmother spent most of her days calling friends and family, checking up on them all and offering a prayer for them. When she would go to the bank, the grocery store, the hospital, you name it, she would be greeting every person she passed by and asking them questions about their life- What is your name? Do you have any children? How old are they? Then, upon leaving, she would take them by the hand, smile gleefully, and ecstatically proclaim, "Thank you sooooo much for your help! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" People who were once strangers instantly become her friends, and they, too, leave the surprise grandma-encounter with a smile.
What can we learn from this holy woman?
1) Childlike Faith
Like my grandmother, we are all called to have childlike faith which simply means to open our hearts to the One who loves us most and trust in His glorious plan for our lives. In prayer, ask God to reveal the ways you can trust in Him further.
I have heard it said that joy stands for: Jesus, Others, and Yourself. It is a helpful acronym that reminds us of how to attain true joy. If we put Jesus, God the Son, first in our lives, others second and ourselves last, we will surely experience the joy that my grandmother had regardless of our circumstances.
3) Sharing one's love of God to others
My grandmother did not hoard her treasure of faith. Instead, she shared it and passed it down to each generation. When she was living with us, she would invite the family to pray the rosary with her every night, and of course, who could deny their grandmother such a beautiful request? She talked about God and how she experienced His love in her life to her children, husband, friends, and yes, even me! She did not claim to know everything about God, but simply, shared about who He was to her. Is this not what we are called to do also?
Parents often share with me that they feel inadequate about their knowledge of the faith, and in consequence, they feel embarrassed to talk to their children about God. As a teen, I use to feel this way when my friends would ask me questions about what Catholics believe. I wish I had known then that faith wasn't just about knowing facts about God (I.e., How many days it took Him to create the world, What the Ten Commandments are, etc.) but more importantly, about one's living and personal relationship with Him.
How have you experienced God's love in your own life? Share this with others!
To all those who are mourning the loss of a loved one, may your hearts be healed and may you be comforted knowing that that your beloved is being embraced by our Heavenly Father whose love knows no end!
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